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PAX Pix 2011, Part Three: Halo Fest

Running concurrently (and adjacent to) PAX Prime was Halo Fest, a tenth anniversary celebration of all things Halo, and admission was free to PAX attendees. Although I had initially intended to avoid Halo Fest since I’m still new to the franchise, my curiosity got the better of me, and we found ourselves lining up by its entrance on Sunday morning. It was a longer line than I had expected, and though there were a couple of inconsiderate smokers upwind, the wait wasn’t bad. A guy in a Halo: Reach costume walked down the line shortly before the doors opened; at first, I thought he was a cosplayer, but soon realized that his presence here was official.

Acting on a tip from a PAX East exhibitor (some of the tabletop gaming companies were in the same wing of the convention center), upon entering Halo Fest, we circled around and picked up swag bags, each with a limited-edition Warthog Mega Bloks set included. From there, a quick trip to the Halo merchandise store was made for a couple of the things in the Part Zero pic. After I got all the goodies I wanted, it was now time to take in the event itself.

There were several little areas set up, each devoted to something different. Many of them were devoted to specific multiplayer modes, and there was also a small stage set up for Halo-related panels and presentations.

   

Near the entrance was a wall filled with images of fan-made tenth anniversary maps made in the map editor Forge. Some of these maps were really neat; my favorite is probably the one which contains an outline portrait of Master Chief made entirely of weapons.

   

Around the corner from the Forge screenshots were two pieces of artwork, a Van Gogh parody painted for the annual Child’s Play auction, and a wooden mashup of Mega Man and Master Chief. The same area held a glass case with recent and upcoming Halo action figures from Square Enix Products. Two of these Play Arts Kai were red and blue Halo: Reach figures originally released as San Diego Comic Con exclusives, and available for purchase at this event as well. The other two items on display were the upcoming Halo Anniversary Play Arts Kai, one of which—the silver Spartan Mark V—is slated to be a New York Comic Con exclusive. If you’d like to see these figures in more detail, I’ve posted additional pics of them on Tsuki Board (a shot of the Deus Ex: Human Revolution Play Arts that were shown, but not sold, in the Expo Hall is also in that set).

Scattered throughout the area were several sculptures and other displays: there were 1/1 scale statues of Halo: Reach characters, Mega Bloks versions of Master Chief and robotic flake 343 Guilty Spark (which, unfortunately, I had forgotten to get a picture of), a diorama of a battle scene, a photo area where you could get a picture of yourself gunning down a Covenant Elite, and a life-size, working Warthog built by Weta. It’s pretty much impossible to make out in the picture shown here, but on the front window by the driver’s side are little silhouette stickers marking units killed; in a bit of black humor, the top row included a couple of children and an old lady pushing a walker.

There isn’t much left to say about Halo Fest. Like the costumed guy outside, others milled about in Spartan gear, posing for pictures, and there was also an information booth of sorts, at which was an old Halo 2 promotional statue. Available at this booth were Halo Fest schedules, an issue of Official Xbox Magazine with articles about the series’ anniversary, and a couple of exclusive Halo-themed 360 avatar items (a Cortana Chip and an Energy Sword), among other things. Once we were done taking in all things Halo, a brief escalator ride brought us back to PAX’s Expo Hall.

In our next and final installment: remember that awesome Gordon Freeman cosplay I mentioned in Part Zero? Well, there will be that, and more!


PAX Pix 2011, Part Two: The Panels

Actually, there aren’t too many pix for this installment, since many of them came out blurry. Besides, although the panels we went to were great, there isn’t anything really exciting about a photo of group of people sitting along a draped table—”you had to be there” really applies in such cases. Anyway, here’s a rundown of the panels and other scheduled events we attended (unless otherwise noted, each event lasted for an hour).

Friday

What They’re Saying About You: How Marketing Segments and Targets Gamers (10:30 AM, Raven Theater) – The title pretty much says what it was about. Marketing ideas, trends in research gathering, the peculiarities of marketing to the PAX crowd, and so forth were discussed for an hour in front of a small but interested audience. The stories and insight from Pete Hines, the don’t-call-him-a-marketer from Bethesda, was the highlight of the panel.

Omegathon Round 1 (2:00 PM, Wolfman Theater) – The first round of PAX’s ultimate gamer competition consisted of some madcap rounds of Mario Kart: Double Dash! An extra bit of chaos was added when it was revealed that the players wouldn’t know which of the five screens they would be playing from, and even this was switched up on each new track. At the end, four Omeganauts were eliminated, but for two of them, their fate was only determined after a tie for last place and a sudden death round. The PAX crew stuck to random maps for this round, though the audience really wanted to see them duke it out on the game’s version of the infamous Rainbow Road.

Retrogame Roadshow: Are Your Old Games Buried Treasure? (5:00 PM, Unicorn Theater) – A panel tailor-made for collectors, with the audience bringing up various rarities to show off while the panelists debated their value. Among the highlights were an NES obscurity titled Panic Restaurant and an extraordinarily rare port of M.U.L.E. (I believe it was the IBM PCjr version).

Friday Night Concerts (8:30 PM ~ 1:00 AM, Main Theater) – This was our biggest must-see of PAX, mainly due to favorites the Video Game Orchestra (see PAX East 2010, Part Two) and the Minibosses (who we had never seen live before). Sandwiched in between were MC Frontalot and Metroid Metal. The entire concert was awesome, and a lot of fun. I especially liked the inflatable metroids that Metroid Metal tossed out to the crowd for them to bounce around in the air (though said metroids wound up on stage more than a few times). Most unexpected moment: the VGO playing tunes from Plants vs. Zombies and Angry Birds!

Saturday

Infinite Respawn: How Gaming Can Keep & Save Your Relationship (10:30 AM, Serpent Theater) – Now here was a topic very near and dear to our hearts: love and gaming. Though many of the panelists’ experiences didn’t quite match up with ours—in part since neither of us are inclined toward multiplayer or co-op—there was a lot else that was the same, and it was comforting to know that our experiences aren’t unique.

Discover the Forgotten Masters (12:00 PM, Serpent Theater) – This panel, which opened with two very amusing Fist of the North Star clips, was presented by the two guys behind GeekNights. Although some of the info presented wasn’t as obscure as they had perhaps thought it was (such as who David Crane is, or what the NES game Spy vs. Spy is like), I still learned a few things and was introduced to some fascinating retrogames, ranging from a gunslinger game (Outlaw for the 2600) to a multiplayer airline management sim (Aerobiz Supersonic for the SNES). I also agree with the point of the panel: that there’s a lot of old ideas in gaming that are ripe for revisiting.

Game Development Secrets Exposed: Everything You Wanted To Know But PR Won (3:00 PM, Raven Theater) – I have no idea what this panel was like… or rather, what it would’ve been like, since it was cancelled at the last minute! Moving on…

You Call That Fun?! (6:30 PM, Wolfman Theater) – This was a lively panel where four friends and game industry colleagues came together to discuss that most intangible of game qualities, “fun”. One of the most interesting parts of this panel was the discussion of difficulty and how it needs to be optimized for the player’s needs; for instance, a bunch of developers who have become experts at the game they’re making are hardly the best judges of difficulty.

King of Chinatown (10:00 PM – 11:30 PM, Serpent Theater) – Thanks to some technical difficulties, this screening was delayed for over half an hour. Anyway, King of Chinatown follows Street Fighter IV player Justin Wong and his rise as a pro-gamer, but that’s only half the story. The other concerns the group Justin was a part of, Empire Arcadia, and its founder, Isaiah Triforce Johnson. Triforce was already known to me as a fixture in the NYC gaming scene—I first became aware of him at the Wii launch, where he was at the head of the line, several feet away from our group—but I had no idea of his role in the pro gaming scene. Without giving too much away, this film is fairly even-handed, but does not paint Triforce in a favorable light. Despite some muddy sound, it’s a good indie documentary, and worth checking out.

Sunday

Making Art from Art (12:00 PM, Raven Theater) – A panel by a bunch of nerdcore rappers and one fanfic writer about all fan-made derivative works might seem somewhat imbalanced, but despite the lack of discussion about the (admittedly enormous) realm of ROM hacking, fan mods, and fan/doujin games, they handled the topic well enough. During the Q&A, an audience member brought up the topic of female fanworks makers twice. The first time, the all-male panel addressed it well enough, I thought; the second time was redundancy defined, though it was clear then where her tastes lay (mentioning Pixiv but not deviantART was a sure sign), and I could swear she referenced Vocaloid fandom without saying the word once. There’s one at every con, I guess.

Insider Insight: Awesome Video Game Data (2:30 PM, Kraken Theater) – This was probably my favorite panel of the show. Presented by EEDAR President Geoffrey Zatkin, it served as a brief glimpse into the world of video game research and data. Lots of statistics were presented, ranging from trends in the music game genre to the likelihood of games with ninjas showing up on the Wii, painting a fascinating picture of what the video game marketplace is really like. If this talk is repeated in some form for a future PAX, I highly recommend it.

Omegathon Final Round (5:30 PM, Main Theater) – And at last, as “The Final Countdown” came over the sound system, the remaining two Omeganauts took to the stage. Each finalist chose a “spirit animal” from the group of disqualified Omeganauts, and Tycho and Gabe teased the game as one having space marines, racecars, and gazelles. Of course, it was no such game. Instead, much to everyone’s surprise, it was The Legend of Zelda! The goal was to be the first to obtain the first Triforce piece, and their helpers’ role would be to guide them along with the help of an FAQ. It was a really exciting match to watch, and once a winner was declared, the show was wrapped up and officially ended, and we headed out to the Console Freeplay area for some last-minute Child of Eden and eventually dinner.

And now that I’m back at home, guess what I started recently. Yep, The Legend of Zelda. This is the first time I’ve ever played a Zelda game, by the way; as of this writing, I’m up to three Triforce pieces and am currently after the fourth.

Such is the hold that PAX has on me, I suppose.

In our next installment: WORF WORF WORF.


PAX Pix 2011, Part One: The Expo Hall

      

Welcome to the home of PAX Prime, the Washington State Convention Center in lovely Seattle, WA!

This was where we spent much of our weekend—attending panels, checking out the cosplayers, and going hands-on with upcoming games in the massive Expo Hall(s). Actually, we didn’t get to play as much as we liked, since the lines for popular titles, most memorably Star Wars: The Old Republic, were incredibly long. As with PAX East, panels were our main priority.

However, we did watch a lot of games being played, in all sorts of genres, and checking out the booths themselves was also enjoyable. The booth that was hardest to ignore was the one for FireFall. They were a major sponsor of the show this year by the looks of things; in addition to the huge booth, there was an animatronic display near the Expo Hall entrance (Prototype 2‘s booth was also in that area), FireFall branding on the PAX swag bag, ads on the escalators, and more. Clearly the goal of FireFall‘s publishers was to get the name and look of the game firmly entrenched in our minds. As for the game itself, I didn’t get to play it, but it looks like an MMO action game of some sort. It is also highly derivative in its aesthetics—even the logo is StarCraft-ish.

Bethesda’s booth was impressive as well, thanks to a large dragon that loomed over the area dedicated to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda also had some Prey 2 stuff as well as Rage in playable form. Save for some canned, stiff animation, Rage looks absolutely stunning, though I seriously doubt that my computer will be able to run it.

Although I didn’t see anything of the game itself, the BioShock Infinite display was marvelous, and the most unique thing I saw on the show floor. There were a few other standouts scattered about, including a plant-like thing for Rift, the inflatable Normandy hovering over Mass Effect 3, the secret society quiz terminals for The Secret World, and Sega’s Rise of Nightmares prison cell. For the Kinect version of Just Dance 3, Ubisoft had a simple stage, but dancing con-goers added the extra hook.

Some people tend to forget this, but geeky non-video games have a large presence at PAX as well. There were a lot of areas dedicated to board, pen-and-paper, and trading card gaming, including a whole branch of the Expo Hall. Publishers of such games had their own booths, plus there were a handful of booths selling games, gaming accessories such as dice, and even dedicated pieces of gaming and collection furniture.

Other vendors included Seattle import specialist Pink Gorilla (which had plenty of import games at their booth, but strangely, no PS2 ones) and artbook localizer Udon, who shared space with comic book publisher Oni Press. There was also a booth selling general anime merchandise, but I was immediately turned off once I noticed that the Nendoroids and certain other items were bootlegs. Square Enix had Deus Ex: Human Revolution Play Arts Kai figures on display at their booth but, much to my dismay, the company wasn’t selling any of their collectables at the show.

Upstairs was a sort of annex to the main hall, where indie game publishers and lesser-known PC hardware manufacturers lived. This room saw a lot of traffic thanks in large part to the presence of Mojang, aka the Minecraft developer. Meanwhile, there was the Handheld Lounge, a land of beanbag chairs occupying hall space on two floors, and sponsored by Nintendo. Although Ninty had a large booth in the Expo Hall, they showed additional games here, including two upcoming Kirby games and Dragon Quest Monsters. Unfortunately, I had somehow forgotten to take photos of both areas.

I could go on, but to describe everything I saw would double the length of this post. Therefore, I’ll close out with brief impressions of the games I actually played.

Kirby Mass Attack for the DS is one of the most unique platformers I have seen in some time. The entire game is played with the stylus, and up to ten Kirbies can be controlled at once. These Kirbies are obtained by eating food found on the field (Maxim Tomatoes, as expected, are the “strongest” of these foods), and some areas can only be reached with a certain number of Kirbies. Though the game is being released very soon, the copies available for play in the Handheld Lounge were in Japanese. I guess the localization wasn’t ready for the show.

Kirby’s Return to Dream Land and Fortune Street were the only Wii games shown in the Handheld Lounge. The former supports up to four players at once and is as madcap as one expects from the studio that also makes the Smash Bros. games; unfortunately, the other characters aren’t as versatile or as necessary as Kirby, which is this game’s greatest weakness. Fortune Street is the first of the Itadaki Street games to be released outside of Japan, but I don’t think it will do very well since, for a board-style party games, it is way too complicated.

Pokedex 3D is neat, and I’ll probably download it once/if I get a 3DS. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is about what I expected, which is to say I’m still planning on buying it.

At the Microsoft booth, I played around a little with Sonic CD, which thankfully has an option to turn on the original graphics, since the “new” ones look horrible. My husband and I also tried out Trine 2, which looks and plays very well, and Pinball FX 2 which is great save for the fact that the balls blend into the playfield a bit too much.

The main indie game I tried at the show was Path of Exile, a Diablo clone with not much to it. The user interface reminded me of Torchlight‘s, but having the health and mana meters on opposite sides of the screen was inconvenient.

That’s about it for the Expo Hall. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll talk about the panels and certain other events which I attended.


PAX Pix 2011, Part Zero: Swaggalicious

Got in from Seattle yesterday afternoon, and have been recovering ever since from that most awesome of festivals known as the Penny Arcade Expo. It was our first time going to “Prime”, which was much bigger than the inaugural edition of PAX East we attended last year.

This time around, I took a lot of photos, and now I have to sort through them all. In the meantime, though, check out all the swag and assorted promotional stuff I picked up over the weekend. This pic doesn’t include a few small items I was unable to locate at the time (such as an Angel Slime pin), nor any duplicates. Still, it’s a lot of stuff, and save for the Covenant Grunt plush, the UNSC bumper sticker, and the Video Game Orchestra CD (and the PAX and Halo Fest passes, of course), all of it was free. The League of Legends code is going to a friend, and some of the other items might be recycled or sold, but otherwise, I think I’ll hang on to much of it.

Over the next few days, I’ll post impressions of the show and games, and even more pics—including ones taken during panels, of the Expo Hall, of Halo Fest, and of the best Gordon Freeman cosplay ever. Stay tuned…


Me and Samus Aran

Metroid Prime was really good, if a little frustrating at times. The levels, very much including the in-between hallway bits, are incredibly varied, and the puzzles are genuinely interesting. Story bits are told via computer terminals and ruins, which can be scanned with a special visor; as such, there were very few cutscenes, which I liked. A lot of backtracking is required to collect all the doodads you need (and don’t), which got a little tedious at times, and at one point, I had to run to GameFAQs in order to progress (always a Bad Thing to me, though in this case, the solution was merely a little oblique instead of ludicrously buried, *cough*). Both enemies and environments require more elaborate battle tactics as the game wears on, which not only added to the difficulty but the variety. Also, the Wii controls for this first-person game are a dream come true, though I personally would’ve put the default jump control on the Nunchuck instead of the Wii Remote, similar to the Elebits scheme. I’m looking forward to playing the other two games in the Metroid Prime Trilogy set, though probably not right away, as my backlog is nearly all JRPGs again and I need, more than ever, action games to break things up.

Captain N isn't that kind of guy.

Metroid Prime was also my first Metroid game, believe it or not. However, thanks mainly to Nintendo and fandom, the game’s protagonist was already known to me, though I was not aware of much of the minutiae of her canon. Really, there aren’t too many hardcore gamers who don’t know of the bounty hunter Samus Aran, since, along with Lara Croft, she’s the most famous and iconic video game heroine out there. An important aspect of her is that she has traditionally been a silent protagonist in the games she appears in, much like Mario, Crono, and just about every main-series Dragon Quest and Pokemon hero. In fact, the only time I’ve seen her talk is in the old Nintendo Comics System books, where she is a calm/cool/collected hunter who macks on Captain N.

Recently, Metroid: Other M came out, featuring Team Ninja’s take on the character and her universe. I hadn’t really kept up with this game, but what reviews I’ve seen have been generally favorable. The one from the Onion AV Club got me wondering, though:

It might not sound like a big deal, but Other M focuses on Samus almost to the point of being a character study. In her many internal monologues throughout beautifully rendered cutscenes, the previously strong-and-silent Samus owns up to being petulant in her time with the Galactic Federation, to having misguided, unshakeable loyalties, and to dealing with daddy issues.

That didn’t sound like the Samus I (barely) knew. Turns out it was worse for a more experienced Metroid player at G4. I first heard about Abbie Heppe’s Other M critique via GJAIF, which quoted a Boing Boing article about the piece and its accompanying backlash. In summary, Heppe did not like the characterization of Samus, and took issue with the story itself; she also wasn’t satisfied with the control scheme and overall game design.

From what it sounds like, Samus was handled badly in Other M, and not just in the sense of a silent protagonist becoming chatty: Heppe logically points out as uncharacteristic Samus’ moments of fear when facing a certain enemy that’s a mainstay of the Metroid series. However, I believe this bit is just another fault of the overall approach as well. If I’m reading this right, it seems that Samus is a character whose thoughts and personality we didn’t know at all, but only interpret through what limited information we are given (sparse storylines and cutscenes, her equipment and enemies, etc.), with the rest up to us, the player. The Samus I saw in Metroid Prime was an independent and diligent explorer who seems not to care for the company of others. There’s doubtless many more interpretations of her out there (like her being a greedy and flirtatious sort, a la the Captain N story). An immature and doubtful Samus was not one I ever thought possible, especially not at the point in the canon that Other M takes place in.

Silent protagonists, especially ones that have been that way for as long as Samus has, must be handled carefully when given a voice and thoughts. I can only think of one other instance off the top of my head where a silent protagonist was given a significant personality injection, and the results were also inadequate; the Jak of Jak II was, unlike the original in Jak and Daxter, not someone I particularly liked. Mario might qualify, as he has been given voice in the past through cartoons and comics, but his in-game persona is still largely open to interpretation; at most, his speech is limited to very basic reactions (“uh-huh”, “no”, exclamations of surprise, etc.) and Italian gibberish.

Perhaps Samus should never have been given a personality in the first place, as that, traditionally, has been left up to the players to fill in for over twenty years. That lengthy time, and all the Metroid games filling it, have created many Samus Arans in the minds of uncountable numbers of gamers. Whittling down these many Samuses to one (and an apparently strange one at that) is a very dicey proposition at best. I hope the next Metroid allows us as gamers to once again see our own personal Samuses again.


At Kotaku, the Fireworks Come a Day Late

So I came home the night before last, exhausted. The next day, I caught up on internetty-type things. One of the sites I sifted through was Game Journalists Are Incompetent Fuckwits, a recent find and the best angry video game blog I’ve read since the deceased (and missed) Pre-Order Pushers. As usual, there’s a ton of stuff about Kotaku, including a link to a funny Something Awful parody, but little did I realize that a raging, gusty shitstorm was on the horizon. I’m still piecing together the entire story from GJAIF posts, Kotaku comments, and other places, but here’s what I’ve gathered:

• On the morning of July 5th, Kotaku EIC Brian Crecente posted an entry titled “This is Kotaku”. It’s an introductory article for newbies to the site, with links to articles, broken down by category, that serve as “a taste of what we do”. iambeaker on CAG later noted, in a thread titled “What is up with Kotaku?”, “I know many of the Gawker blogs place an article similar to this when a blog is featured on a major network (i.e. The Today Show) or when the blog is being sold (i.e. Consumerist).” FriskyTanuki replied: “That post is their response to the Game Journalists Are Incompetent Fuckwits blog that criticizes sites that post stupid articles or gets information completely wrong and Kotaku accounts for probably 60% of the blog’s content.” If that’s true, seems the post didn’t work.

According to GJAIF, “After Crecente posted the ‘This Is Kotaku’ article, there was a bit of a meltdown in the comments.” To say the least. Evidenced by the handful of comments still left on the post, many more were “disemvoweled” (the vowels were stripped from them) and later deleted (or at least, hidden from non-Kotakuites). One critical comment by lineypi—which I am unable to link to directly—stood out to me as I began putting this post together. I’m not sure if it is representative of its deleted brethren, but here it is in its entirety, in case it should disappear later on:

Just out of curiosity, but are the other Gawker sites doing something similar to this? I feel like there’d be a lot of overlap between things on here and things on Gizmodo (and a few of the other gawker sites) just based on this overview.

It would also be interesting to see these different things sorted into what you plan to post most about compared to what you see the least of.

At the moment the impression is that top of the list is what Kotaku has chosen to rank as the highest importance.

So for instance, you’ve got Sex really high on that list, but personally I don’t see sex & games as something intrinsically linked. Gawker has ..alternative.. sites for sex.

So the implication here is that Kotaku will have a sex article posted each day or something, but if that’s the case then I can see that driving away (the mature) gamers rather than attracting them.

I dunno, I just feel like with this summary list Kotaku isn’t really representing itself the way that I, as a visitor, experience it. And if this list is indicative of changes that are going around or about to occur, then I’m concerned that the experience will change.

PS – I’d also really like to see some sort of internal news that is purely a response to the mass banning/censorship that has recently occurred.

If there’s a way you can tag something so that it is only visible to registered members, or if you just use the internal messaging system, then I could see that being a solution that would answer a lot of the community’s questions without having something so off topic & purely internally focussed end up in your blog feed.

In the #speakup section of Kotaku, I found much more. In particular, the banning of a user named dean seems to have been a major flashpoint for the implosion. kanji08 goes into further detail about yesterday’s events in this comment.

• The conversation and arguments continued beyond Kotaku, spilling into a fan forum and Steam group. Again, GJAIF has more details regarding that, including a lengthy bit of chatlog from the Steam group, for which Kotaku writer Owen Good is present. GJAIF is later kicked out of the chat.

That’s about all for now. There’s still some fuzzy bits here and there, such as the precise role of certain individuals, and the nature of the deleted comments. It’s disconcerting how much has been covered up. I understand editors wanting to have a certain degree of control over their site, and I’m pretty neutral in my feelings toward Kotaku, but this is kind of nuts. It doesn’t seem like much is being written about this implosion right now, which is a shame; I’d like to see more. Something tells me that the meaning of “community” on Kotaku has just been considerably altered for its users, and it’ll be up to the Kotaku staff (and parent company Gawker) to decide what this means for everyone.